After having her baby, one of the biggest gifts in her life, Swathi discovered how parenthood equipped her to rise up the ranks at work.
There are hundreds of thousands of dedicated working mums and dads around the world who silently and tirelessly balance their demanding careers and young children’s needs. In this article, in celebration of International Women’s Day, we shine a spotlight on one such mum who flies high in her career and family thanks to her hard work and help from her support systems.
In a world where there are concerns about losing your job or promotion when you go on maternity leave, it is a breath of fresh air to see a woman receive a promotion after coming back from her parental leave.
We talked to Swathi Venkatasamy, the Technical Director of Diageo Southeast Asia, on being pregnant at work, as well as balancing parenting and her new promotion.
Pregnancy in the Workplace
Swathi was working as the Manufacturing Excellence Manager for APAC, when she got pregnant. She personally loves her job and the different challenges she faces each day. Even up till the late stages of her pregnancy, she showed no signs of slowing down — taking business trips for as much as up to two to three weeks in a month.
“When I was heavily pregnant at seven months, I was working hard because I knew I was able to. And if I wasn’t able, I would stop. I wasn’t facing any pressure to work from my line manager or my company, but that is just who I am. I am one of those people who love their job,” she said with a laugh.
She recalls with fondness the water-cooler chat she had with a member of the senior leadership team at her company, who knew that Swathi was going to go on a business trip the next week.
“I remember her asking me with concern: ‘What are you doing? Why are you travelling? None of this is more important than you and the baby,’” she recounted. At the end of it, her senior encouraged her to slow down and stop travelling, assuring her that the team would find a way to manage it.
Giving Birth During the Pandemic
“My pregnancy was relatively smooth, but the labour was not. It was 36 hours long and I had a last-minute complication that happened to one in a million people, so I had to do an emergency c-section,” shared Swathi. However, things turned out well and she ended up having a beautiful baby boy, named Diyaan.
Swathi’s company gives parents (regardless of gender) six months of parental leave, so she was looking forward to it and spending time with her baby. “I thought my maternity leave would go smoothly — walks in the park with my baby, brunches with friends, resting…” she said.
“But then we had the pandemic and the lockdown. My husband had to return to India for a family emergency, and my baby fell sick,” she said. Being an expatriate, Swathi didn’t have any relatives near to help her. “Thankfully, we had planned ahead of time to get a nanny, which really really helped me survive this tough period.”
This time as a new mum really tested Swathi and grew her resilience. However, it got even tougher after her maternity leave ended and she had to resume work (from home, due to the pandemic.)
Balancing a Promotion and a New Addition to the Family
A few months after returning from maternity leave, Swathi received a promotion to Technical Director of Southeast Asia. She had proven to her superiors that she was capable, and they were happy to entrust her with more responsibilities and a bigger role.
“I have been working for this for a very long time. I set this goal five years ago. So I was extremely happy, proud of myself, and a little overwhelmed — I had to pause to think about how to accomplish all of this,” she smiled.
“You see, my baby was used to having me 24/7, but now I would have to split my attention between him and my work.
“It took me a little bit of getting used to. Everybody has to play multiple roles, this is a challenge many people face. But it is especially difficult for parents.
“When focusing at work, and my meetings, I could hear my baby laugh, play, or cry, around the house. And that was really hard because I obviously wanted to be there with him.
“I don’t want to miss out on any milestones either,” she said, feeling that returning to the office might have actually made it easier to deal with the heartache.
“Sometimes the guilt that parents — especially moms — experience can be overwhelming. I have to remind myself that I am doing the best that I can in all of my life, and that helps me fight the guilt.
“Your entire universe shifts when you have a baby,” she added. “People used to tell me that, and I didn’t believe it until it actually happened. I started looking at things really differently, and learned how to balance my life.
“I reached out to people I trusted and communicated with them to build a support system at work and at home. Because I realised it takes a village to raise a child, and I shouldn’t feel guilty when I ask for help,” she said.
Finding the Balance to Achieve Her Goals
“I’ve been working hard to achieve my goals, my promotions. Having a baby did not change what my aspirations were, but it changed how I got there,” she added.
“I am lucky to have been able to work with, be inspired, and coached by some very strong women who found a way to balance a thriving career and motherhood,” shared Swathi. “My former boss, who was a mum of two, was very chill and relaxed and made it all seem effortless. I used to wonder how she did it.”
After being through the experience of being a mother, and speaking with her mentors, Swathi learned that balance as a working parent was possible if you had the following factors — a good support system at home, a good team at the workplace, and good planning to work out your time and resources.
“My husband and I would have a small ‘family meeting’ every morning, just to review our calendars and see how we would manage the day with our boy. I usually block my 6-8pm for spending time with my son, to walk him, shower him, read to him, and put him to bed,” she said.
“Now that lockdown is over, and I work in the office a few days of the week, and there are evening meetings at the office sometimes. So I make compromises — if I have meetings till 7pm, I would take a cab back home at 5pm, so I could spend time physically with my son while taking any evening meetings online,” she added.
Swathi realised that she is fortunate to work for a company that supports and enables mothers with policies and a flexible working culture; to have a team she knows she can rely on; as well as a fantastic, loving husband who is very hands-on with parenting.
Working Parents are Valuable and Strong Assets
“Unfortunately, not every company is on the same level yet, with good family policies, a forward-thinking culture, and supportive people,” she said. “Sadly, there are still companies that are hesitant to hire or promote women who might go on to have children,” said Swathi.
Swathi’s challenge to companies is: Can they provide greater support to working mothers, who like men, have just as many valuable experiences and competencies to offer?
“While it is true mums will prioritise their children, it doesn’t mean they will de-prioritise work. It just means companies need to provide the right tools and support systems to help new mothers thrive at work and have a fulfilling family life,” she elaborated.
“I have grown so much as a mum. I believe parenthood gives you the most transferable skills you could have. An employer looks for someone that can change, evolve in an uncertain environment, and be ready to handle any crisis that occurs. And parenthood is the best experience one could get to become a more resilient, adaptable, and organised person with those skills,” she said.
Working mums (and dads) are so much more efficient at work. Their lives, in which they learn how to balance pressing priorities, are testaments to their skills and value. It is time we look at parents from a different lens. Rather than a liability, they are able to become great assets to the company and their children, if only given a level playing field and the right support systems.
This article was published in partnership with Diageo Southeast Asia to celebrate International Women’s Day.